Ryan Bauer-Walsh is spreading the love—and the self-love, and the love of family, with his latest creative projects. He’s the creative architect behind The Rainbow Lullaby, the adorably moving album that celebrates LGBTQIA+ families and features the work of LGBTQIA+ artists. He’s also designed the Banana Duck line of clothing for TinPin, combining unique style with gender-neutral, sensory-friendly pieces that anyone can enjoy. He even created the artwork for his album!
In essence, everything he does is about welcoming people and inspiring them while they’re here, and we don’t have very many artists who are both that creative and that inclusive. Ryan is doing a lot of incredible things to make the world a better place, and I recently had the chance to chat with him about the making of The Rainbow Lullaby and the start of his TinPin collaboration.
Brittany Frederick: The Rainbow Lullaby is a great idea for an album; it really fills a void in the musical landscape. How did you come up with the idea for the record?
Ryan Bauer-Walsh: This album was conceived during the pandemic and then it was also conceived out of a lot of grief. I got home in June of last year to take care of my mother who had cancer, and I spent four months taking care of her until she passed away in October. And then I was just trapped in my childhood home, in the basement, trying to piece together all of these childhood memories to kind of recreate my mother and [in] this sort of really depressed desperation to try and understand my new reality without her. And from that, I knew that creating things is always a stronger thing than destruction.
I took a couple of ideas that I had and I threw them against the wall. I got some friends involved. I called my friend Fred Sauter and I thought, “Do you want to maybe try something with this? I have all these songs. Maybe we could make an album of lullabies. I’ve always envisioned myself singing to my children someday. But, not yet, obviously.” He was on board, and suddenly I was able to kind of recreate that maternal energy that my mother had blessed me with for all of my life. Now I feel like I can pass that on, and in some tangible way, she’s going to continue to help spread kindness and love, like she did in her life.
BF: You have a group of incredibly talented songwriters and performers involved in the album. How did you pull the album together, especially during the pandemic? Was it letting them go off on their own or did you have specific things that you were looking for musically?
RBW: What I really wanted to develop was kind of a narrative, an idea, and take it from there. I called as many people as I could—all of them are queer composers—and I said, “Look, I want to do this gay lullaby album.” It’s something that’s never existed and it needs to help kids fall asleep. I want them to be able to press play and then, 25 songs later, the parents are asleep as well. That was the main thing. And then I said that we were going to keep the instruments really sparse: just piano, cello, and maybe glock or chime, to keep it really soothing and really pretty. [Those were] the primary parameters. And one thing when I was asking people was, I was only going to work with composers that I know are really, really nice. It’s an amazing group of people, and all of them are really generous at heart.
BF: So they (and you) finish these songs; how do you match them with artists? Since the way an artist interprets a song can completely change or even better it.
RBW: One of the primary things about this album was creating representation within our community, so that everybody had a voice. That was the main thing, was making sure that the album was diverse. And then, from there, we could kind of see which songs led themselves to which people. We have a whole bunch of people on this album, who come from incredibly different backgrounds. And I just kept thinking to myself, “Well, as long as they personally connect to the material.” It was in very few cases that it was written for someone specifically.
As we were coming out of the pandemic, suddenly, all of these people in our community were going back to work and there were not as many people as available to do the album. We had to conquer that first, to see “Who’s actually free anymore? I’m so glad all my friends are working again. But we need some people to sing.” Once we found people that were available, it was about making sure that [they] matched the material. And we have some beautiful music. For instance, there’s a song on the album about two black kings and their beautiful black son [“The Beautiful Son”]. That’s on the album that I love by my friend Dionne [McClain Freeney]. And from there, it just spreads in terms of diversity. It’s a really lovely story about how inclusion matters.
BF: That brings up an interesting point. You want The Rainbow Lullaby to be diverse and speak for this underrepresented community, but you also want it to be accessible and enjoyable to everyone who has kids or are kids at heart, even. So how do you navigate that balance?
RBW: The thesis statement for the album is in the first song, which is called “The Rainbow Lullaby.” The whole point of that song is in its first few lyrics, is that there is a better day tomorrow, but we can only get there if we all go together. We were really lucky. Broadway Records gave us 25 songs on this album, and it’s a charity album. All the proceeds go to charity. So we were like, “How many can we do? How many people can we include?” And, from this, I really think that we got everything on there that was possible during the constraints in the time that we had, with the availability that was given to us.
BF: Are there ways listeners can get involved if they also want to support the charity you’re working with or just support the LGBTQIA+ community more?
RBW: The Ali Forney Center is the charity that we’re supporting, which is a New York-based charity that helps homeless queer youth and just the LGBT population in general. I believe in arts activism in many ways, and what I hope more than anything is that this creates new cultural traditions within queer communities. We need to start to take up the torch, as far as the community, and start to create these new family traditions, these new things that aren’t just these kind of cliches about what it means to be part of the gay community at this point. Because we’ve gone through all these years where people have sort of told us who we are, and we’ve kind of fit these stereotypes to make them comfortable. And we lost an entire generation to the HIV crisis. And now, we’re here, and we’re queer, and it’s time to start building on those things. So I’m hoping this inspires more young people to create a new kind of song book of American lullabies, as well as just family-oriented LGBT traditions.
BF: Also being an actor and an artist, do you find your creative process stays the same when doing an album like The Rainbow Lullaby, or how much changes in your style depending on the medium you’re working in?
RBW: I’m a storyteller. I find that narrative is the thing that drives me in all instances. I was a little kid on the backyard swing, making up songs and telling stories and always writing things. [There’s] kind of a metaphor that I used when I was helping people decide how to write their songs [for The Rainbow Lullaby]. I said “Well, look at the cover. How does it make you feel?” And that’s how my friend Yasuhiko Fukuoka ended up writing his song. I was like, “It’s purple. It’s nighttime. That’s all sort of the crux of the situation that leads.”
BF: What comes next from here? Do you have albums or artists you love that you’d encourage people to listen to after The Rainbow Lullaby, or what are some of your other projects that we can look forward to in the future?
RBW: I grew up in the early 90s, so I have a background based strongly in The Cranberries, Lisa Frank aesthetics, things that have a lot of neon. (laughs) But more than anything, as we move forward, I want this to inspire people to find out more about the queer composers on our album. There are these amazing performers, and amazing composers who are creating operas and new wave synth music. Zachary James, for instance, who is an opera singer from the Met, is so incredibly talented and has this large compendium of music that he’s producing that you can find on Spotify now. So I would tell them to investigate the artists on my album, for sure.
And I have a clothing line that just came out with TinPin, which is a gender-neutral clothing line for children. The adults’ line comes out in December. I did my own version with Banana Ducks. They’re little ducks that have bananas, and they’re all bruised, and that’s what makes them sweet and relatable. And that’s been really exciting because as somebody who dealt with anxiety, I like clothes that either have a little bit of tension in the fabric or are really, really loose. And we’ve been able to create things for other people who have similar experiences. So I’m really excited about sharing that with people.
Article content is (c)2020-2023 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr and on Instagram at @BFTVGram.